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Top 10 Most Common Chinese Mistakes Made by English Speakers: #1


Hey 你好! Yangyang here.

This is the last in a series of 10 posts on the most common mistakes English speakers make when speaking Chinese. You made it to mistake #1!

In my years of teaching Chinese, I have come to notice that English speakers tend to make similar mistakes over and over again. Today, I am going to tell you the most common mistake #1.

The goal here is to become aware of these mistakes to help you avoid making them in the first place! 

Mistake #1: Using "bù (不)"  to negate the verb "yǒu (有) - to have"

Before we continue, remember this: You should NEVER say "bù yǒu (不有)"  .

The verb "to have - yǒu (有)"  is a verb with VIP status. It deserves its very own special negation word which is "méi (没)"  .

To say "not have" you should say "méi yǒu (没有)"  . You should never say "bù yǒu (不有)", there is no such thing!


I don’t have siblings. (lit. I not have siblings.)
méi yǒu xiōnɡ dì jiě mèi。 

She doesn’t have a boyfriend. (lit. She not have boyfriend.)
méi yǒu nán pénɡ yǒu。  

The Difference Between  "bù (不)" and "méi (没)"

In our previous blog post, we also learned how to use “bù (不)” to negate past action.

To indicate that an action DID NOT happen in the past, use the negation word “méi (没)” or “méi yǒu (没有).” “yǒu (有)” is optional. 

Since “méi (没)” is used exclusively to negate “yǒu (有),” when you see “méi (没)” by itself, you know that “有 (yǒu)” is assumed. 

If you think about it, it DOES makes sense to use “méi (没)” or “méi yǒu (没有)” to negate past action, because “méi yǒu (没有)” literally means “not have” and it’s the same in English, “not have done something.”


I didn’t eat breakfast.
méi (yǒu) chī zǎo fàn。
()吃早饭。/ 我()吃早飯。

I have never been to China.
méi (yǒu) qù ɡuò zhōnɡ guó。 
()去过中国。/ 我()去過中國。

For Present and Future Action

To indicate that an action DOES NOT happen now or WILL NOT happen in the future, use the negation word “bù (不).”


I don’t like him.
xǐ huān tā。 
喜欢他。/ 我喜歡他。

I don’t want to go.
xiǎnɡ qù。 

I won’t go to China tomorrow.
wǒ mínɡ tiān qù zhōnɡ guó。 
我明天去中国。/ 我明天去中國。

It won't rain tomorrow.
mínɡ tiān huì xià yǔ。 
明天会下雨。/ 明天會下雨。

Compare these two sentences

(1) wǒ bù chī zǎo fàn (我不吃早饭) 

It means “I don’t eat breakfast.”

When you use “bù (不)” to negate a verb, it means the action doesn’t happen or will not happen. This sentence implies that I don’t have the habit of eating breakfast. I just don’t do that.

(2) wǒ méi chī zǎo fàn (我没吃早饭) 

It means “I haven’t eaten breakfast or I didn’t eat breakfast.”
Maybe I forgot to eat breakfast or maybe I didn’t have time to eat breakfast, the result is that I didn’t have breakfast.


The verb "to have - yǒu (有)" is the VIP verb, so when you need to negate the verb "yǒu (有)" you need to use the special, VIP negation word "méi (没)" instead of the generic negation word "bù (不)". 

Second, when you need to negate an action IN THE PAST, you use either "méi (没)" or "méiyǒu (没有)". 

For actions in the present or in the future, you should use "bù (不)". Does that make sense?

I hope you now have a much clearer understanding of when to use "méi (没)" and when to use "bù (不)" to negate actions.

This is the very last post in our Most Common Chinese Mistakes Made by English Speakers series. I truly hope this entire series has helped to improve your Chinese. Please ask your questions in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them! Also, let me know what kind of post series you would like to see next! zài jiàn (再见) - bye!

More Common Mistakes English Speakers Make

Most Common Mistake #10: Putting Time and Location in the wrong place

Most Common Mistake #9: Using bù (不) to negate a past action

Most Common Mistake #8: Using "le (了)" to indicate past tense for all verbs

Most Common Mistake #7: Forgetting to insert "de (的)" in between adjectives and nouns

Most Common Mistake #6: Confusion about “verb + default object” verbs

Most Common Mistake #5: Using "ma" for "non-yes-or-no" questions

Most Common Mistake #4: Ignoring Chinese Measure Words

Most Common Mistake #3: Assuming "and" = 和(hé)

Most Common Mistake #2: Assuming "to be" = "是 (shì)"